Turf war! Huuuh! What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing … say it again!*

So I’m making a good bit of progress on the next Area Guide — Southern California this time. Should be ready in a day or two. Hey, what’s this in the inbox?


(Alternate take from SCTV.)

But that’s just the journalist’s take. It’s the equivalent of an 89th-minute goal that forces us to tear up the stories our editors are expecting in five minutes. How does everyone else feel about it?

OK, that sounds good. Anyone else?

Oh dear. (Disclaimer: Ranting Soccer Dad is an NCSL parent.)

What does this mean?

1. Instead of four regional leagues, we’re about to have a lot of conferences. They’ve named eight so far, but that just covers the East Coast, the Southeast and Texas.


Will this format include more teams? Seems that way, but we’ll wait for clarification. In the current format, the Eastern Regional League has 16 teams in the Elite Division. The lower Premier and Championship divisions can theoretically take more teams but do not. The Midwest Regional League looks a bit bigger, as do the Southern Regional Premier League and the three-pronged Far West Regional League.

Through the current regional leagues, teams can qualify for the National League, which uses the hashtag #EarnYourPlace to establish its intent and perhaps throw some shade on the invitation-only DA and ECNL. And through the National League, teams can earn a place in the regional championships (an alternate path: State Cup) and then the National Championships.

Those pathways will continue. But will they be more crowded?

2. EDP, which currently has its top levels (out of many levels) in U.S. Club Soccer’s National Premier League, has apparently switched over to U.S. Youth Soccer. (I’m asking to have that point clarified.)

3. The press release mentions “newly formed club vs. club brackets may be offered.” That raises two questions. How, given the team-by-team #EarnYourPlace qualification for these leagues? And why, given the objections raised by … OK, maybe just me? See “Club-centric scheduling” on my “About the Area Guides/National Info” page.

4. With these leagues being more localized than the current league system, is the expectation that each team will enter only these leagues? In the current system, some teams play in both the U.S. Youth Soccer regional league and their “home” leagues.

Perhaps it’s unfair to think of these changes mostly in terms of the Turf Wars — U.S. Club Soccer vs. U.S. Youth Soccer in general, then the proxy war of the Development Academy (U.S. Soccer) vs. ECNL (U.S. Club Soccer) vs. traditional league/tournament play (U.S. Youth Soccer) at the elite level. But it’s really impossible to think about it otherwise.

So you may be asking: How does this affect me, especially if I don’t have a kid in the top 1-5% of youth soccer players who might be involved with these programs? 

My tentative answer: We may be hitting a tipping point of trickle-down “elite” soccer.

Here’s how …

1. Clubs in your area scramble to get their top teams in the DA, ECNL or U.S. Youth Soccer conferences. (We’re already seeing this for the DA and ECNL; the current U.S. Youth setup is more complimentary.)

2. Clubs that don’t get into these programs (or want their B teams to be in something “elite”) scramble to form “elite” leagues, some of which are pretty good and some of which are demonstrably worse than the old traditional leagues’ top divisions. (Already seeing this, too, in some areas.)

3. Your traditional league needs to recruit more teams to fill the holes in their divisions. Suddenly your big local club has six travel teams in one age group. Suddenly your local “development” league consists of a couple of teams in one place and a couple more 100 miles away.

In short, we can sum it up with one word …


Whether your kids are in the top 5% or the middle 50%, you may find yourself in leagues that are unsettled, with clubs and teams coming and going. Maybe a new team comes in that blows out all its opponents 10-0 or loses all its games 10-0. Maybe a league that used to have all its games within a 45-minute drive now has its games scattered all over your state.

Or not. We just don’t know. So when you sign up your kid for a full year (because heaven forbid a club lets you sign up for one season at a time) of “travel” soccer, you have little idea what you’re getting into.

So it’d be nice if the powers that be would get together and explain to us why this is necessary.

* Don’t get the headline reference? Check out Edwin Starr, Bruce Springsteen and Seinfeld.

The Ranting Soccer Dad Guide to Youth Soccer is underway. It includes a guide to national programs and, in progress, an area-by-area guide across the USA. Check out the Patreon page for full access and updates.


2 thoughts on “Turf war! Huuuh! What is it good for?

  1. We will have chaos because some parents will always want their kids to be elite and are willing to pay for it. Not every child can be elite, but as soon as a club/league/association tries to filter out the non-elite to avoid watering down the product, another business person will market “elite” to the parents that are excluded.

    The solution is simple: state associations should have the USSF mandated authority to arrange ALL leagues of ANY affiliation into a hierarchy by quality and then DENY permission to travel to events based on a teams/clubs position in the hierarchy. All regional leagues of ANY affiliation should fail under the authority of USSF.

    Of course, that is basically what lead to the creation of US Club and ECNL in the first place, and if USSF did it everyone would squeal hysterically about how unfair and top-down it is.


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